I’ve been a parent for a very long time now and I’ve seen all the fads and phases come and go. We’ve weathered the storm of playground ‘must haves’, we’ve given in to a few and said no to most but, when I look back on my children’s childhoods, it is not the primary colour plastics which have stood the test of time. Those Beyblades, Bumpies and Barbies are languishing on a charity shop shelf, Buzz Lightyear has gone to infinity and beyond – so what has  stood that test? Which things have provided endless hours of fun? Which things still get played with?

Lego, Playmobil, K’Nex and Mario/Super Smash Brothers all still have a strong pull. If Bonus Boy gets the Lego or the K’Nex out he soon has a team of ‘advisers’ on hand and they are often to be found, curled up with DSs playing a multiplayer game where they can all join in regardless of the huge difference in age.

But the very best things of all have been things which in no way dictate or direct play. Cardboard boxes, packaging material, blankets, pots and pans, pens, pencils and paint, the washing baskets and sticks seem to mark out the whorls and eddies in the current of their lives.

Give him a stick and he’s a happy boy, give him a knife and he’s in heaven

Learning through play

He whittles a bow and some arrows

He is Robin Hood

Imaginary Play

His Swiss Army Penknife has a saw, sticks with noses have to be sawn and carved until their personalities emerge

making stick people

stick people

We now have a whole handful of stick people who make excellent travelling companions.

Of course, once he starts, it’s not long before someone else comes to join in. This old broomstick was clearly crying out to be turned into a magical staff.

making a wooden staff

Play for the sake of it, play with or without apparent purpose, play which develops skills, encourages questions, allows them to experiment, adapt and create – this is what childhood is all about. So it was with dismay that I read of the government’s plans for nursery education this week. As they shift towards the mechanics of learning, as the emphasis is heavily placed on producing workplace fodder rather than on nurturing a desire to learn, as they remove the need for nursery workers to learn anything about the importance of play so they are doing a disservice to our children and storing up problems in the long-term. My children are the creative, intelligent, thoughtful people they are because playing to learn was encouraged – they learn because they want to not because they have been told to. They question, they wonder, they observe, they find out – it’s not rocket science.

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